ROME — Pope Francis on Friday opened a new place for the homeless on the doorstep of the Vatican. Although calling it a “place” is rather an understatement: It’s really a palace, using the historic name it has had for centuries – Palazzo Migliori.
The structure, just yards away from the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, occupies an entire four-story building owned by the Vatican. The building had been used by a female religious congregation until a few months ago, and was then transferred to the Papal Almoner – Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who has given it a second life.
In less than a month he arranged a complete renovation of the interior.
“We decided to keep the historical name of the place” – he told Crux during a tour of the building a few weeks ago, while it was still under construction – “the name is Palazzo Migliori – it is the name of the family that owned it before 1930 and sold it to the Vatican, but it also translates in Italian to ‘the Palace of the Best’ – and indeed considering who will stay here, it is exactly the case.”
Inside one will find nothing that looks like a homeless shelter – the building has historic wooden ceilings and pieces of art on the walls.
“You have an impression that it is for the princes, and indeed it is,” Krajewski said.
The cardinal is the pope’s right-hand man for charitable works, and is known in the Vatican as “Don Carrado.”
“I asked a construction company to let the homeless workers do the renovation. They agreed a bit hesitantly but then they were so happy with their work, they decided to hire those people – the owner of the company said they rarely see people who would work so hard,” Krajewski told Crux.
A palace built in the early 1800s has now been equipped with an elevator to allow access to the elderly and people with disabilities. There is a large chapel, reserved for the personal and community prayer of volunteers and guests – also with stunning, 19th century wooden work in the ceiling.
Krajewski is particularly proud of the chapel – the pope donated an Armenian mosaic of the poor which has been put on the left side of the altar. Employees of the Vatican also brought a gift to the homeless – the specially framed medal of Our Lady of Confidence.
“It is a matter of starting the snowball of good – those people working in the Vatican came to me and said we framed this beautiful medal for the poor – a few years ago they were not going out with initiatives like that and now you can really see for yourself how the good started to spread,” the cardinal said.
The dormitories will occupy the top two floors and will be able to accommodate up to 50 people, both men and women. More might be able to be accommodated during winter emergencies.
The management of the place is in the hands of the Sant’Egidio Community, the Rome-based Catholic lay movement famous for its peace initiatives and working for the poor.
“In the kitchen we will prepare breakfasts and dinners for people staying in the refuge but also meals for those whom we serve at Tiburtina and Termini stations,” he said.
In fact, the meal preparations have already begun, with volunteers cooking meals every Tuesday and Thursday for over 250 homeless and needy at Rome’s train stations.
San’Egidio will provide volunteers for the new facility who will provide for the day-to-day needs, as well as helping the poor to use computers, look for jobs, and offer literacy classes and other educational and cultural activities.
If you have an official papal blessing on your wall there is a good chance part of your money went straight to Palazzo Migliore, since Krajewski’s office is in charge of dispensing the parchments.
The cardinal said private donors were also generous – the Holiday Inn chain provided the hostel’s beds.
“Once we thought we need an elevator, someone just gave it to us,” he recalled, adding that renovating a place as big and old in such a short period of time was somewhat miraculous.
Krajewski told Crux that we need to help the poor in a “rich and generous way.”
“Jesus said we need to be like a father who is giving all his wealth to the prodigal son, even if everyone else is protesting, including the younger son,” the Polish cardinal said.
To put the icing on the top of the richness and beauty of the place, Krajewski showed Crux a terrace with a view for St. Peter’s Square and Basilica.
The stunning view will also help contribute to the running of the facility — it will be used for television news backdrops for Vatican stories: “Do you know how much a terrace like that costs in Rome — I think we can get this place financed only thanks to you!” Krajewski joked.
But for most days of the year, the terrace will be enjoyed by the residents.
“You could have a six-star hotel here, 600 Euros a night. Isn’t it great that this place was given to homeless people?”
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